Governments around the world could be hiding behind the Anonymous name in order to carry out cyber-attacks against other government's websites according to a security expert.
In April, almost 500 Chinese websites, including some Chinese government sites, were defaced, with Anonymous China taking the blame and listing the 485 affected sites on Pastebin, along with email addressed and other personal data stolen in the attack.
Among the messages posted on the defaced websites was: "Dear Chinese government, you are not infallible, today websites are hacked, tomorrow it will be your vile regime that will fall." While news of the defacement was widely reported in the western media, it was never officially confirmed by the Chinese, with government officials denying the attack had even taken place.
However, one security expert believes that the attack could have been carried out by some other country, using the cover of Anonymous as protection.
Rob Rachwald, directory of security strategy at computer security company Imperva, believes it is entirely possible that governments are carrying out attacks while claiming to be by Anonymous. He points to the extensive attack on China as evidence:
"It was a pretty extensive campaign. Could it be the US government helping out? I don't know, [but] I wouldn't rule it out. Could it be German, UK hackers sponsored by the government? I don't know."
It is widely held that most, if not all, governments are involved to a greater or lesser degree in cyber espionage, with the recently discovered Flame being the most sophisticated implementation so far. The United States government, in conjunction with the Israeli government, is implicated in the creation of Flame - and Stuxnet before that.
Pretending to be part of the hacking collective known as Anonymous would be a new departure for governments around the world, though it would be an effective way of carrying out low-level cyber disruption, while easily being able to distance themselves from all involvement.
While recent Anonymous-related arrests and convictions show that law agencies take what is happening seriously, Anonymous is still seen as more of an annoyance than anything else. While Anonymous and cyber criminals may use some of the same tools, there is no evidence thus far that hackers are using the Anonymous umbrella to carry out attacks for financial gain.
Anonymous is not just based in the US and UK, and as a result we are now seeing different factions emerge from within the collective, each with their own identity and their own methods.
"Other countries like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico where Anonymous is going very, very strong, because the local law enforcement there hasn't been able to be as successful with arrests as the fear factor is not as high."